City renews Del Rio talk

Now defunct renderings for a commercial development filed under the City of Atascadero's Del Rio Area Specific Plan.

 

ATASCADERO — After more than a decade of planning efforts, and occasional litigation, Wal-Mart announced in February of 2017 the cancelation of plans to build a 123,000 square-foot retail store which had been an anchor for the City of Atascadero Del Rio Specific Plan Area.

At the Oct. 23 regular meeting, City Council got the first of three expected updates on what their planning staff has been working on to pick up the pieces.

Community Development Director Phil Dunsmore’s explanation of the changing retail and commercial landscape since a “big box” retailer was first proposed at the location on El Camino Real mirrored some of the rationale the company itself cited in making the decision. Depending on who buys the property, now confirmed to be on the market, and what restrictions Wal-Mart imposes on the buyer through deed restrictions, final projects could still be a boon for the City, meshing what he termed as a visitor experience while shopping, with food and more service-oriented businesses.

But the Specific Plan still needs changing as the staff drafted all previous documents with the explicit expectation that Wal-Mart would be the anchor for the 26-acre site and help provide the traffic infrastructure used by later retailers.

Now the need for what he said would be a $13 million interchange project  — if the City ends up on the hook to spur development — is in doubt as planners look to seven potential scenarios.

Nothing particularly lucky about the number seven here, that’s just the number of options that emerged with research on what would be left open using Wal-Mart’s past restrictions on other sites as a guide, mostly eliminating any potential competitor from moving in.

Of note, they turned up other restrictions regarding alcohol establishments which could stop a microbrewery from taking up residence in any business park on the property but that isn’t necessarily something that would be included here.

Why not ask one of the world’s largest brick and mortar retailers what they’re likely to do?

Dunsmore later explained that at the moment it’s entirely possible no one at the company has any idea the history of the site or about local planning. While a project is in progress they’ve got hired consultants to follow through with community outreach, but with the plans canceled their relationship with the City of Atascadero now likely resides in a filing cabinet or hard drive somewhere in Wal-Mart’s home state of Arkansas.

“What we’re dealing with now, right now,” he said, “is what to do about the interchange and finding out if we’re even going to need one.”

“Lodging uses, restaurants and business park uses have very different traffic demands that don’t peak at the same time as large retail. Assuming the Del Rio area develops with the current trends in land uses,” he wrote in Community Development’s presentation to Council. “The City may not need to construct a series of roundabouts to alleviate traffic impacts. It is important to look at the impacts anticipated land uses patterns will have on the area.”

That report on traffic patterns under different scenarios — utilizing the original consultants that gathered data in anticipation of the Wal-mat project — will likely be ready by the end of the year, although staff is giving themselves a buffer on the timetable.

“It’s a collaborative process for sure,” Dunsmore said. “We’ve been editing each other's drafts.”


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